Christian Lane remembers that his grandmother hated to throw anything away. “She was always reusing margarine tubs for everything,” he says. “She had this Depression-era ethic and verve that I really looked up to.” As an adult, he’s decided to take his grandmother’s frugal habits and apply them a little bit further—to the supermarket. Along with brothers Joseph and Patrick and partner Christopher Pepe, Christian is working to open in.gredients, the country’s first package-free, zero-waste grocery store in East Austin this winter.
The store will carry what you’d find in a neighborhood grocery store of old: produce, grains, spices and even beer and wine. But their products will be locally grown or sourced, organic (or natural when organic is unavailable) and sold either package-free or “package light” in recyclable containers (necessary for some items because of food safety).
How does a package-free grocery store work? In.gredients will use a CSA program-style model for their produce: customers can simply pick up fresh, local produce that they order directly from the farmers and that is delivered to the store by the farmers themselves. Many items will be sold in bulk for easy access. But what about things like milk, eggs and yogurt? “We’re encouraging customers to bring in their own containers,” says Christian, “but we’re not going to turn people away.” Compostable containers will be used for many goods, and milk will be sold in containers at first, but ultimately a dispenser machine will be available. For things like salad dressings, marinades and sauces, Christian says they’re encouraging customers to make their own by offering dispensers for vinegars, oils and spices.
With the in.gredients model, Christian hopes to provide a cheaper way of getting food to both owners and customers. “They can save money by not buying these value-added products that use a lot of processing,” Christian says. And there’s money to be saved on shipping, delivery and, of course, dealing with spent packaging. In fact, the nascent company’s mantra is a twist on the usual: “Refuse, reduce and reuse.” “Instead of energy-intensive recycling because of product packaging, we’re trying to refuse packaging itself.”
The path to package-free and zero-waste shopping hasn’t been without hurdles, though. The logistics and economics of “going zero” were the easy parts. The biggest difficulty has been navigating the city regulations. “Overall it’s just a really time-consuming process of paperwork and bureaucracy,” says Christian. But the brothers have been amazed by the passion and interest they’ve already seen from the community. The team picked East Austin for a reason: it’s an area greatly underserved for access to fresh, local food, and one that’s ripe for a return to the old neighborhood grocery store. “It’s amazing how many people there are here in Austin wanting to make this happen,” Christian says. “It’s a true sense of community.” —Terrence Henry
2610 Manor Rd.